The U.N.'s Fallujah Folly


The U.N.'s Fallujah Folly

November 8, 2004 8 min read
Nile Gardiner
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow
Nile Gardiner is Director of The Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.

In an extraordinary letter to the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and Iraq, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote of his concern at "reports of major military offensives being planned by the multinational force in key localities such as Falluja." (Find excerpts of Annan's letter here. Read Allawi's response here.) Annan cautioned that,


The threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation of certain communities, but would also reinforce perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued military occupation… This is the moment for redoubling efforts to break the cycle of violence and open a new chapter of inclusiveness and national reconciliation...[1]


Annan's appeal came as tens of thousands of American and Iraqi troops (with British forces in a support role) prepared to retake the insurgent-held city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. His letter appeared just three days after the re-election of President George W. Bush and was undoubtedly designed to stir up international opposition to the Bush Administration's military strategy in Iraq. Embarrassingly for Annan, his comments were immediately attacked as "confused" by Iraq's interim prime minister Iyad Allawi[2] and "entirely wrong" by Britain's Home Secretary David Blunkett.[3]


The United States should condemn Annan's words as an unwelcome and highly inappropriate intervention at a critically important time in Iraq's history. While Iraqis are dying in large numbers at the hands of Al-Qaeda backed foreign fighters and former Baathists, the U.N. leader's chief concern appears to be the need to negotiate with the insurgents and open "a new chapter of inclusiveness and national reconciliation."


Annan's letter will give aid and comfort to some of the most barbaric terrorists of modern times, demonstrating the total lack of moral clarity projected on the world stage by the United Nations. Indeed, the greatest failure of the U.N. under Annan's leadership has been its unwillingness to confront terrorism, brutal dictatorships, and acts of genocide. The world organization failed spectacularly to deal with Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime and his flouting of the U.N.'s own resolutions, is failing to provide leadership in disarming Iran, and is weak-kneed in the face of genocide in the Sudan. It is at the same time enmeshed in the biggest scandal in its history, over the U.N.-administered Oil-for-Food program.


Why the Fallujah Operation is Necessary

Kofi Annan's letter failed to acknowledge that the U.S.-led offensive to retake Fallujah comes at the direct request of the Iraqi interim government. Every opportunity has been given to the insurgents in the city to lay down their arms and surrender to Coalition forces, but they have refused to do so. There is no prospect of holding elections across the whole of Iraq unless the rule of law is established in all of the country's cities.


Fallujah has become in recent months a mass transit camp and command center for thousands of militants from across the Arab world, including Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Fallujah and its satellite towns are acting as staging posts for terrorist activity across the Sunni areas of Iraq. Unless they are retaken, it will be impossible for the scourge of terrorism to be defeated in the country. The retaking of Fallujah and other insurgent-controlled cities will be essential if national elections are to be held in Iraq in January.


Key goals of the American operation will be the capture or elimination of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the destruction of the Tawhid wal Jihad group that he heads. Al-Zarqawi has pledged his allegiance to Osama bin Laden and is responsible for the brutal kidnapping and murder of numerous Western and Iraqi hostages. Al-Zarqawi and his followers are also responsible for a large number of suicide attacks in the Baghdad region, which have resulted in hundreds of deaths.


Kofi Annan's Declining Credibility

Kofi Annan's latest sermon against U.S. policy in Iraq further undermines his credibility as Secretary-General of the United Nations. It draws into question the neutrality of the world body's most senior public servant and raises serious doubts about the U.N.'s commitment to play a positive role in the war on terror.


His remarks further reinforce the growing perception that Annan is a loose cannon on the world stage, driven by deep-seated resentment towards the Bush Administration over its decision to liberate Iraq without the blessing of the Security Council, as well as a need to divert international attention away from his organization's myriad problems.


Annan's latest intervention must be considered in the context of a series of overt attacks on U.S. foreign policy. In a September interview with the BBC, Annan described the war to remove Saddam as an "illegal" violation of the U.N. Charter, adding, "I hope we do not see another Iraq-type operation for a long time."[4] In October, in an interview with another British broadcaster, Annan again criticized the decision of the U.S. government to go to war against Iraq, firmly rejecting the notion that the world is a safer place with Saddam Hussein out of power.[5]


Annan's increasingly vocal opposition to the Iraq war comes against the backdrop of the growing scandal surrounding the United Nations' abysmal management of the Oil-for-Food program.[6] The program is now the subject of at least four congressional investigations, three U.S. federal investigations, and a U.N.-appointed commission of inquiry, the Volcker Commission. Worryingly for Annan, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the role of Kojo Annan, Kofi's son, in connection to his work as a paid consultant to Cotecna Inspection SA, a Swiss-based company that received a contract for inspecting goods shipped to Iraq under the Oil-for-Food program.[7]


Annan's attacks on the United States over its policy towards Iraq are indicative of the insecurity running through the corridors of power at the U.N. headquarters in New York. The prestige and reputation of the world body is running at an all-time low, and it is hard to reject the conclusion that Mr. Annan is trying his best to deflect attention away from his organization's massive failings and leadership vacuum.


Key Recommendations

  • The White House should condemn Annan's Fallujah statement. President Bush must firmly reject the Secretary-General's appeal against a U.S.-led offensive to retake Fallujah. He should remind Mr. Annan that the U.N. wields no veto over American foreign policy and urge the world body to play a constructive role in the war on terror.
  • The UN should not play a lead political role in Iraq. Kofi Annan's letter demonstrates the extent to which the U.N. is completely divorced from political reality on the ground in Iraq. Annan's call for brutal terrorist groups to be brought into the democratic process is naïve in the extreme, as well as a dangerous proposition that sends completely the wrong message. The U.N.'s role in Iraq should be strictly limited to assisting in the administration of elections and humanitarian provision.
  • Kofi Annan should stand down. The scandal over the U.N.'s management of the Iraq Oil-for-Food program has gravely damaged the Secretary-General's reputation . Major questions remain over Annan's own role in the scandal, including whether he deliberately turned a blind eye to widespread corruption, fraud, and mismanagement. This-combined with his record of failure over Iraq, his lack of commitment to confronting terrorism, and his declining credibility as a neutral figure on the world stage-represents a powerful case for Mr. Annan to stand down.

Nile Gardiner Ph.D. is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at the Heritage Foundation.

[1]'Kofi Annan's Letter: Fallujah Warning', BBC News Online, November 6, 2004, at


[2]'Annan Plea as Iraq Assault Looms', BBC News Online, November 6, 2004, at


[3]'Annan Wrong on Fallujah - Blunkett', BBC News Online, November 6, 2004, at


[4]BBC News Online, "Excerpts: Annan Interview," September 16, 2004, at


[5]The comments were made in an interview with Jonathan Dimbleby for ITV News. See "Annan Slams Iraq War," ITV News Online, October 17, 2004, at

See also "Annan Rejects Iraq Oil Bribe Claim," BBC News Online, October 16, 2004, at


[6]For further background, see Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., James A. Phillips, and James Dean, "The Oil for Food Scandal: Next Steps for Congress," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1772, June 30, 2004, at bg1772.cfm.


[7]"Oil for Food Probe Includes Annan's Son," Fox News Online, October 15, 2004, at,2933,135503,00.html.



Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow